Lollapalooza 2016 Final Day
Sunday July 31, 2016 - Grant Park, Chicago
When Lollapalooza made Chicago its new home as a standalone festival in 2005, they drew 67,000 fans over two days and had four stages. Eleven years later, it took place over four days, drew 400,000 people and had 170 artists perform. While some other prestige festivals are struggling to keep up with the continual changes to the music landscape, Lollapalooza sells out on name recognition alone and the addition of a fourth day makes them unique. The 2016 edition of the festival is not just alive and well financially, but musically as well. I am not going to pretend that every act I saw has the goods to make it to a headline stage, but Lollapalooza's batting average is better than most paving the way for many artists to get to that next level.
The final day of the longest Lollapalooza started under the bluest of skies. The first two days had periods of light rain but never became violent enough for an evacuation. The final two days provided perfect weather with temperatures in the high 70s painting a perfect picture of optimal summer days in Chicago. Festivals are always enjoyable but when you hit the weather jackpot it allows you to take in the local vendors, the incredible food (the best at any music venue I have ever experienced) and it allows for further navigation of the entire festival. Taking over a larger footprint than the Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza is a sprawling event that goes beyond music. In 2016, I saw sixty-nine different performers perform more than forty-hours of music while I trekked sixty-eight thousand steps, and thirty-eight miles. I saw just as many acts in 2014, but had one fewer day, which points to the quality of sets in 2016. I was less inclined to move stage-to-stage during sets from the Struts, Con Brio, Day Wave, Lapsley, the 1975, Lana Del Rey, Third Eye Blind and Radiohead to name a few. The final day hit many of the high notes fans were anticipating even as exhaustion from the previous three days had set in however, it was a post-grunge band who left us speechless, reminding me of a band whose talent has never received its due.
This past March, I spent a day in York, the infamous walled city on a trip to England. The people were lovely; the ambience of culture present and it had some of the best food I tasted on my trip. Little did I know that it was the birthplace of Låpsley, a nineteen-year-old singer, who left a reflective impression during Lollapalooza's fourth and final day. Her forty-five minute performance was dreamy with languorous vocals dressed up with ricochet beats, evocative synths and howling bass. She hit her stride towards the end of her set which included Station, a single from two years ago, a Kate Bush cover This Woman's Work and ending with Hurt Me. The latter was a piercing indictment of betrayal that she delivered with an immersed tightrope vocal that displayed the rolling emotions like a slow motion crash. One week before her twentieth birthday, her chronicles of heartbreak show wisdom beyond her years.
Oh Wonder 1:30
Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West are a harmonizing duo who makes wistful visions with their music. The highlight was All We Do which Vander Gucht talked about to the crowd, urging us all to get out of our boxes, embrace the wonder and beauty that life has to offer us and not settle. The pondering ballad that followed washed over the audience like a refreshing respite from life. Body Gold was every bit as languid and lovely with the dual-harmony vocals penetrating off the stage onto the crowd. There were synth flourishes but its strength laid in the terse but steady rhythm that helped move the song while never stealing the spotlight from the voices. They even tackled Beyoncé's Crazy in Love making the breathy dance floor hit their own.
Lindsey Stirling 2:15
One does not associate the Perry's EDM dance stage with classically trained violinists, but somehow Linsey Sterling brought some of the most human moments of the weekend to the EDM dance stage. A series of musicians on the stage is a bit of a departure for Perry's but Stirling gave an impassioned performance with her violin steering the backing dancers who paired with live drums and keyboard. Stirling is returning to Chicago this October at the 4,500-seat Rosemont Theatre and watching the fireworks she lit at Perry's with only the instrument in her hands it is easy to see why.
Marian Hill 2:35
Marian Hill is another duo who creates electronic music paired with an organic mix of instruments, which stand at the crossroads of electronica and jazz. Jeremy Lloyd and Samantha Gongol have a unique sound, notably on Mistaken, take from their ACT ONE album. Maybe it was the Saturday night hangover or the fireworks over at Perry's but the movement onstage while admirable failed to elicit a response from the crowd.
Part of me wants to say someone lost a bet and put Fidlar on the second biggest stage at Lollapalooza as a dare. Whoever was enterprising enough to give them a prime afternoon slot can claim victory as their set was a triumph. They were loud, roaring and raucous as they tore through a set of high-energy punk rock. They were the band who embodied the punk DNA better than anyone else all weekend. They are smarmy and charming and the no-frills aesthetic made them quite a sight to see. From their opening cover of the Beastie Boys Sabotage to the wrist-spinning wrath of Wake Bake Skate, Fidlar decimated all in their path. They got better as the show went on with their tongue-in-cheek commentary, mosh pit and resolute guitars. Without question, they deserve their placement on the Bud Light stage. Like an unforeseen tsunami, they left Lollapalooza quaking in the aftermath of their deafening set.
Self-described as "dark pop, Muna know their way around a melody. A three piece, with two additional musicians complimenting the live performance, they had a great gusto and sureness. A mix between Tegan and Sara and Blondie, they had a mid-day dance party on the shaded Pepsi stage. The trio of songs I saw, the piercing and pleading Winterbreak, the Stevie Nicks cover Edge of Seventeen and a new song I Know A Place showcased a band in command of their craft. "I Know A Place" was about finding a safe place to express ourselves that lead singer Kate Gavin delicately sang from the gut of her soul while Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson channeled their rage through their guitars with breezy coolness hitting the emotional apex of their set and in many ways the festival as well. Throughout Lollapalooza's four day, there was symbolic unity from the artists in their commentary from the stage where they want to feel free to express themselves, share and care and not have anyone tell others what they can and can't do with their bodies. Muna is a band I urge you to discover and see in concert.
Q Brothers 3:20
The Q Brothers have the distinction of being the only act to play Lollapalooza every year since 2005. They are one of the key performers on the Kidzapalooza stage. Both, GQ and JQ, hail from Chicago and are creative forces to be reckoned with. Their family friendly hip-hop event deserves more credit than it gets. Slicing and dicing intrinsic rhymes, the brothers collaborate with friends and kids who have visited their hip-hop workshop that is available at different times of the year and at Austin City Limits in October as well. The Q Brothers stand toe-to-toe with the majority of hip-hop performers at Lollapalooza. Watching the Q Brothers washes away your cynicism that will not just invigorate you but leave a lasting smile on your family's face. The Q Brothers have a free family hip-hop album suitable for children on their website (here).
Third Eye Blind 3:45
Stephan Jenkins has been through a lot in the two decades since his band, Third Eye Blind, burst onto the music scene with their six times platinum self-titled debut from 1997. Since then, the band has gone through numerous changes and has endured long periods of waiting between studio records. They have a mere five records with no live albums and only a handful of assorted songs. They have flirted with the mainstream in the last decade, but have not had a large media presence until this year. It may have been his comments at a fundraiser a few weeks ago that coincided with the Republican National Convention, his politically poignant new song Cop Vs. Phone Girl but the band is riding a wave that no one could have anticipated and it resulted in one of the biggest crowds of Lollapalooza. The truth is, I have never seen a crowd at the Petrillo stage like this one that went all the way back to the Bud Light stage. The only downside was the Petrillo stage tends to have poor sound and a band like Third Eye Blind deserves a better sound system. Chris Stapleton performed on the day before and if they opt to book these heavy weights, they need to add screens and additional speakers.
So how did Third Eye Blind do at their debut Lollapalooza performance? They stole not just the day but also the festival. Never underestimate the power of a contagious melodic rock-pop tune. Third Eye Blind was a post-grunge band who excelled at melody. Their A Collection compilation has never left my iPod since it's come out but I always viewed them as a curiosity more than a band I followed but that is about to change. Lead singer Stephen Jenkins was affable and injected a sense of stadium rock and joy to the proceedings. The band glided through the set with candor, humor and astounding performances. It is easy to forget how many hits they had during their commercial peak; however, it was the deeper cuts that resonated strongest. Opening with Faster from their Out of the Vein record from 2003, you realize how this should have been a hit. Two of the more entrancing moments came from material off Dopamine their 2015 record that captures the joy, craft and melodic genius of their earlier work. Rites of Passage washed over the crowd and when he segued into U2's With or Without You, the crowd surrendered their hands and hearts over to the band. Everything Is Easy may have just been released last year but it touches on all the hallmarks of the band's greatest high points; haunting lyrics, ethereal vocals, adoring performances and an arrangements that is nothing short of downright infectious. If this were 1998, it would be at the top of the charts.
The hits elicited some of the biggest responses I witnessed all weekend at Lollapalooza. Motorcycle Drive By takes harmonious vigour pairs it with a heated jolt and splashes it into our hearts. Never Let You Go with its earworm of a guitar opening and laser-melody gripped the crowd while Graduate and Losing a Whole Year were forbidden fruit the audience relished, the latter which had a tease of Beyoncé's Mine as an intro. He even played I Would Die 4 U by Prince (the first of two performances of the song on Sunday with the second one by Haim). Every note that flew off the stage was a build that led to three seismic watershed moments. The first was the live debut of a new song Cop Vs. Phone Girl which tackles social injustices head-on touching on racism, police brutality and the tension that has fueled our society in recent years. While Jenkins has never shied away from being political (he had a whole EP be buried by his label nearly fifteen years ago for fear of alienation), this song hits at the heart of the American experience at this moment in time. Third Eye Blind are writing songs that spark dialogue and while his experiences may not be first hand like many of the hip-hop artists at Lollapalooza, his passionate pleas for understanding as just as poignant. The song was released in late July and will be on the forthcoming We Are Drugs EP.
For Jumper, Jenkins barely even had to sing it as the entire field took it over capturing the weekend's largest call and response. No other song by any other act elicited such a vociferous response and it sent chills down my spine. The band closed their epic set with Semi-Charmed Life. The crowd surged towards the stage. In the midst of the song, they lifted a man in a wheelchair on their shoulders and when Jenkins saw this, he waved the fan up to the stage where the fan sat in his wheelchair singing his heart out next to Jenkins. This moment moved beyond words into a spiritual realm where everyone in that moment was united as one community smiling, singing and swaying shoulder-to-shoulder. Third Eye Blind is a band that has never had a large critical following, but two decades into their career, they stupefied Lollapalooza that brought the festival and its fans to its knees with a set heavy on affecting stories that transcend commercial performances but that speak to our hearts, our minds and touch our souls. It is as cliché as a catchy pop song, but it does not make it any less true. Third Eye Blind has been reborn and if Lollapalooza and other festivals were smart, they would make them headliners on the biggest stages possible.
Local Natives 4:50
Their harmonies were perfectly suited for a Sunday afternoon. They simply had the misfortune of following Third Eye Blind on the opposite stage. Lead singer Taylor Rice elegantly sang Past Lives with pronounced care while drummer Matt Frazier clanked his drums with elation, as he appeared to be in the driver seat of the band's sound.
Pop grooves, smooth vocals and sturdy torpid rhythm define the sound of Totem, an R&B singer from Atlanta. There is not much known about TOTEM but during the short time I watched his set, he was someone that commanded attention with his stage presence and his sound.
Born into this world in 1994, Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, better known as the singer Halsey, commanded attention on the vast Samsung stage at Lollapalooza not for her white boots, pink shorts or suave blonde hair, but for the care and command she gave to her performance. Drive, Ghost and Hurricane, all cuts from her debut record Badlands, were expansive and glacial reminders of what inventive pop music can be where electronic instrumentation is used as a tool and not an end-game. She strutted across the stage with buoyancy that few attain in their life let alone by the age of 21. When she addressed the crowd,, she did so with the wisdom of someone who has seen more in life. She pointed out that there were more important things in the world than watching her sing. However, I have always found my greatest comfort and joy from artists who reflect life through poignant music and lyrics and Halsey showed the world she is capable of this power as well. Music is not a place for fear and throughout the four days at Lollapalooza in 2016, there was more commentary about diversity and embracing your true inner self than I have heard in the previous five years combined. Maybe music cannot change the world but it can make it a place with more empathy, more understanding and more compassion. That is never a bad thing.
Silversun Pickups 5:25
The LA rock band Silversun Pickups opened their set with "Cradle (Better Nature)" from their 2015 record Better Nature with ferocity. They hit the stage with feverish energy and perform their instruments with steely precision, but they are a band who has never crawled under my skin. They have a fervent following, but I feel that more people know about them than their music.
Taking shelter under the scenic trees of the BMI stage the Athens, Georgia based Mothers performed sluggish untidy jams that rumbled but unfortunately lacked a connection with those in attendance. Maybe it was late in the day, maybe too many people were waiting at BMI for the band that followed and maybe it was just the wrong moment.
I love everything about HAIM, the all-female band consisting of three sisters from California…except their debut record, Days Are Gone but after watching their high-energy set at Lollapalooza, I will have to admit, I may have been wrong about the record. The band consists of sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim (with two auxiliary musicians for live performances). All three sisters took had their chance at the microphone and took turns turning their charm on the audience. If I Could Change Your Mind was a solid opener that was a showcase for their talents and onstage chemistry. Don't Save Me found genuine movement from the crowd as the song grooved and swayed before allowing sister Alana to sing Prince's I Would Die 4 U. They performed several new songs that peak curiosity for their sophomore record while being candid with the crowd from confessions about being single and on the prowl to more affecting moments when two of the sisters recollected coming to Lollapalooza in 2007 to see Amy Winehouse on the very stage they were performing. It was a very human and revealing moment that reminded those in attendance that ultimately, we are all fans and that is what brought us together at this festival.
Vince Staples 7:45
Staples is a mere twenty-three years old but the hip-hop artist from Long Beach, California made an impression on the crowd at the Pepsi stage that swelled together as one as their arms thrust in unison, singing and swaying to Lift Me Up and Jump Off the Roof. Rapping and rhyming as the sky lost its light, Staples invigorated the crowd with constant motion and mastery of the stage.
Bloc Party 8:15
This is an English band I deeply respect and admire but whose performance at Lollapalooza in 2013 left me cold. It did not hit the notes I had anticipated and felt as if the members were running through the motions. It may have been the crowd was prepping for the Cure on the other side of the field, but the Bloc Party that emerged onstage for the 2016 Lollapalooza edition was reenergized. Slashing guitars interweaving bass highlighted on Helicopter and Ratchet which singer Kele Okereke sung with more purpose than he has in years. The rhythm section is new and have invigorated the band and brought them back to their early days.
LCD Soundsystem 8:25
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the announced headliners at Lollapalooza was the reunion of LCD Soundsystem who had called it a day a mere four years ago. Murphy produced an Arcade Fire record a few years back but leading his band of merry misfits playing indie electronic rock is what he was put on the Earth for. Opening with Us v Them the band showcased a sturdy and surging rhythm, with jangling percussion. Despite spending most of his time behind a microphone, Murphy oozes charisma with his inflicted vocals showing different range, which the touring musicians line up behind the drive the songs forward. Daft Punk Is Playing at My House was a merry moment with the crowd dancing along like splendid fools. LCD Soundsystem may not be household names, but they can command any festival crowd at any time and this is why they will always be a mysterious musical force that I am happy is back.
Die Antwood 8:50
How does one explain the sound of the South American rave group Die Antwood? You do not. Blending theater, frenzied dance music with a bleeding rock edge the duo is a sight to behold and had no peers on the Perry's stage this weekend. Their profile rose last year as they appeared in the Neill Blomkamp film Chappie. They are returning to the Aragon Ballroom in October, so if you wish to see a high-energy rave with the two performers in Pokémon jumpsuits who work the stage and crowd as well as KISS and Jagger, than Die Antwood is your band.
ZHU is a mysterious electronic musician who has let very little press about his background, instead choosing to let the music do the talking and whose debut album Generationwhy was released two days before his Lollapalooza debut. The music is more atmospheric, suited for dark clubs rather than after-hours clubs and while it was intriguing, it was hard to compete with the other headliners.
Ellie Goulding 9:30
Goulding performed on the same stage a few years ago earlier in the day where she stole the show and flexed her weight proving the pessimists wrong. Unlike some of her pop contemporaries, Goulding has more grit to her than most realize. She strode the stage like a rock star gripping her microphone as she ran and jump enticing the audience to follow her every move. I Need Your Love, Anything Could Happen, Don't Panic and Burn lit up the crowd as the twenty-fifth edition of Lollapalooza ended. Goulding performed in an arena just in May, but she excels at working the larger crowds into a tizzy. Maybe it is that way she puts on a guitar and teases the crowd, during the second half of Burn. It could also be her ability to prowl a stage like Mick Jagger and Axl Rose where she commands the audience like few other performers can. She closed Lollapalooza 2016 on a high note showing that even pop stars can inspire and illuminate.
Read our day one report from Lollapalooza here.
Read our day two report from Lollapalooza here.
Read our day three report from Lollapalooza here.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He has seen over 1,000 concerts in his life and has covered Lollapalooza in-depth for five years. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Lollapalooza 2016 Final Day
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